Tag Archives: Strasbourg Cathedral

9 September: Augustine and Anon on the Suicide of Judas

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day. Whenever I think about suicide, I have this image before my inward eye: the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, undoing the knot by which Judas hanged himself, ready to remove him from the influence of the mocking demons at Hell’s Gate. The Gospels tell us that Judas betrayed Jesus to the collaboration rulers of the Jewish people, which led to the crucifixion on Good Friday. Augustine says that Judas’ suicide did not wipe away his guilt for Jesus’ death but added another wrong to that overwhelming transgression. Yet there would still have been room for healing penitence if he had been open to it.

The anonymous mediaeval sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral clearly believed that Judas was forgiven, even after his suicide; sometimes the artist can convey the message more clearly than the philosopher!

But here is Augustine*:

Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God’s mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence?

How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment! For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own: for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime.

Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent?

We are still asking the same question today. Part of the answer is there in Matthew’s Gospel; Judas felt he was on his own and past redemption:

 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:3-5

Judas was alone when he most needed a friend. The disciples were too immersed in their own grief to look out for him. The Councillors made it perfectly clear that Judas was no longer of use to them and dissociate themselves from him. With no-one at hand to help, he went away and hanged himself. Tomorrow we visit the Grief Project, aiming to strengthen and comfort those bereaved by suicide, and to prevent its occurring in the first place.

*City of God by Saint Augustine, Marcus Dods.

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19 June: Wickedness takes the short cut

At the Last Supper scene from Strasbourg Cathedral, Judas is to the right of centre, grasping his moneybag. He has just received the piece of bread from Jesus, to the left, who has his hands clasped, his eyes turned heavenward. How did the betrayal that is about to occur come about? It doesn’t feel to me like just one more venial peccadillo, but perhaps it did to Judas. Maybe the venial peccadilloes, his stealing from the common purse, paved the way for the big one.

Here is an extract from Boswell, reporting a conversation on Skye in which Dr Johnson, The McCleod of McCleod, Rev Donald McQueen, and Boswell himself discussed human wickedness.

JOHNSON. ‘Cunning has effect from the credulity of others, rather than from the abilities of those who are cunning. It requires no extraordinary talents to lie and deceive.’

This led us to consider whether it did not require great abilities to be very wicked.

JOHNSON. ‘It requires great abilities to have the POWER of being very wicked; but not to BE very wicked. A man who has the power, which great abilities procure him, may use it well or ill; and it requires more abilities to use it well, than to use it ill. Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the short cut to every thing. It is much easier to steal a hundred pounds, than to get it by labour, or any other way.

‘Consider only what act of wickedness requires great abilities to commit it, when once the person who is to do it has the power; for THERE is the distinction. It requires great abilities to conquer an army, but none to massacre it after it is conquered.’

From “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.” by James Boswell.

More than once I have heard a preacher say that Judas was taking a short cut, contriving a showdown with the authorities that Jesus would surely win, a coup d’etat. But Jesus was not one for political short cuts; he was not a lazy thinker. Thirty pieces of silver could have been earned by hard work or by betrayal. Perhaps the moment of truth for Judas came as he kissed his master, and suddenly realised how wrong a turning he had made.

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24 April: To make his Father known

Christ the King in Holy Week and Easter, Strasbourg Cathedral.

The events of Holy Week are shown with the Crucified at the centre, full of vigour as he stares death out. Above, the Risen Lord leads his first parents into Paradise, above that again the Ascension.

We have received the link to this Easter reflection by our old friend, Brother Austin, a link we gladly share.


Jesus understood his mission to be, to make his Father known; not by talking about him, but by being himself with other people, his Father’s Son – and that still remains the mission of the Church – go out and spread the Good News – what it means to be beloved of Abba, share your experience, not your knowledge, of who Jesus, the beloved of Abba, is for you.

At this time there were no defined doctrines, creeds or codes – so what were they expected to do when they were told to go out and spread the Good News? Was it to teach and preach? It was something much simpler and much more profound – they were asked to go and share what it was like to live with Jesus, after the Resurrection – share their experiences of being with him.

The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; when he told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, Sabbath observances and ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples after Good Friday, must have thought, maybe the authorities were right after all, that Jesus was not from God. Death was final, and put an end to dissent.

Two of them were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate that Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. But when he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right; God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description of his accusers. The reasons for getting rid of him were part of the sinful mechanism of getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.


It is true that the Law was given by God – but the interpretations of it are of human origin; and so, for example, keeping the Sabbath holy, came to mean observing all the restrictions imposed – not by God. The point of Sabbath is so as to enjoy the wonderful things God is doing through creation.


We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they had thought, did Jesus’ story – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.

Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but showing how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus is simultaneously dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – death as lost its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life, including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in fear, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.

Because each one of us is unique [God doesn’t create copies], every sharing will reflect what is ours only, and wouldn’t happen without us – differences [not division] unity without uniformity – which we are able to do by sharing in his Spirit freely given in our Baptism.

AMC

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10 April: All in an April Springtime, I.

Strasbourg Cathedral

All in an April Springtime.

No easy crown to make. 

Did they wear gloves? 
           Roman gloves? 
Did their hands bleed, 
Mingling with your blood? 

No easy crown to wear, 
Needing persuasion 
To hold in place 
While acting out their game, 
Excited by your blood. 

By your response . . . 

Waiting, 
          As you do.

SPB 2021 

Sheila Billingsley sent us these three poems very recently; they arrived on Easter Eve, Holy Saturday. Though the first two shorter poems are  about the events of Thursday night and Friday they are infused with Easter, so here they are, as close to Easter as we could get them; the others follow tomorrow and the next day. A shame to put them by until next year.

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8 March, Gates I: the gates of death.

Some of our posts during Lent will be a series, or as Christina would say, a season, on the theme of Gates, places where change can take place, where we can start a new life, perhaps in a new home. Some posts will be Scriptural, others from a variety of sources.

Our picture shows a section from the tympanum, or carved lintel panel above the West door of Strasbourg Cathedral. On the right we see one of the gates of death, attended by demons, with a woman descending into Hell. On the left is a remarkable image: the Lamb of God chewing through the rope on which Judas hanged himself, in order to save him from the gates of death. We should give some time to this chapter of Jesus’s story; certainly not one that appears explicitly in Scripture, but one that greatly mattered to the artist.

How many people have been so desperate that they committed suicide, as Judas did? In lockdown times, it is more difficult to get alongside friends who might be down, let alone strangers. Let us remember them when we say ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us Peace.’ And may we all come together soon to declare all God’s praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion – the people of God.

Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies. Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may declare all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion. I will rejoice in thy salvation: the Gentiles have stuck fast in the destruction which they have prepared. Their foot hath been taken in the very snare which they hid.

Psalm 9: 11-16.

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23 January: Week of Prayer for Church Unity, Day VI, Welcoming Others.

Strasbourg Cathedral

“Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” John 15:16

Genesis 18:1-5 Abraham hosts the angels at the Oak of Mamre

Mark 6:30-44 Jesus’ compassion for the crowds

Meditation

When we let ourselves be transformed by Christ, his love in us grows and bears fruit. Welcoming the other is a concrete way of sharing the love that is within us. Throughout his life, Jesus welcomed those he met. He listened to them and let himself be touched by them without being afraid of their suffering.

In the gospel account of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus is moved with compassion after seeing the hungry crowd. He knows that the entire human person must be nourished, and that he alone can truly satisfy the hunger for bread and the thirst for life. But he does not wish to do this without his disciples, without that little something they can give him: five loaves and two fish.

Even today he draws us to be co-workers in his unconditional care. Sometimes something as small as a kind look, an open ear, or our presence is enough to make a person feel welcome. When we offer our poor abilities to Jesus, he uses them in a surprising way. We then experience what Abraham did, for it is by giving that we receive, and when we welcome others, we are blessed in abundance.

“It is Christ himself whom we receive in a guest.”

[The rule of Taizé in French and English (2012) p. 103]

“Will the people we welcome day after day find in us men and women radiant with Christ, our peace?”

[The Sources of Taizé (2000) p. 60]

Prayer

Jesus Christ, we desire to welcome fully
 the brothers and sisters who are with us. 
You know how often we feel helpless in the face of their suffering, 
yet you are always there ahead of us 
and you have already received them in your compassion. 
Speak to them through our words, 
support them through our actions, 
and let your blessing rest on us all.

Questions

  • When you meet new people do they find you “radiant with Christ”?
  • As we pray together for greater unity how are we showing Christ’s welcome to other Christians?
  • What are people hungry for in your community?

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13 September: Wesley upon Slavery XIII. Can you wonder?

The Last Judgement, Strasbourg Cathedral

What pains have you taken, what method have you used, to reclaim (slaves) from their wickedness?

Have you carefully taught them, that there is a God, a wise, powerful, merciful Being, the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth? that he has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world, will take an account of all our thoughts, words, and actions? that in that day he will reward every child of man according to his works? that then the righteous shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; and the wicked shall be cast into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?

If you have not done this, if you have taken no pains or thought about the matter, can you wonder at their wickedness? What wonder, if they should cut your throat? And if they did, whom could you thank for it but yourself? You first acted the villain in making them slaves, whether you stole them or bought them. You kept them stupid and wicked, by cutting them off from all opportunities of improving either in knowledge or virtue: And now you assign their want of wisdom and goodness as the reason for using them worse than brute beasts!

The artists of Strasbourg used the Last Judgement to say something about those in authority who had more regard for themselves and their comfort than the poor people of their day. But the Lord is blessing Creation with his Glorious Wounds.

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5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. (Take a look at St Thomas’s Lady altar.) But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King!

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11 March, Desert XIV: Unplugged Wednesdays.

judas.strasbourg

Fr James Kurzynski of the Vatican Observatory Website recently wrote about his coming sabbatical retreat. Follow the link to read his reflections before he proceeds to the desert of Arizona. Here is part of his article.

I felt a deep peace about what I would call “detachment Wednesdays.” Wednesday will be a day of silence, encouraging us to not speak verbally, unplug from anything that could distract us, and take a day of restful prayer.

Two weeks age, I gave a presentation about my sabbatical to St. Olaf’s youth in our Faith Formation Program. When I got to the part of explaining Wednesday Unplugged, I told them, “Don’t bother trying to get a hold of me on Wednesday, but do know each one of you will be prayed for that day as I prayerfully take St. Olaf Parish with me into the desert.”

Wednesdays and Fridays are traditionally the more concentrated days of the week in Lent;  ‘Spy Wednesday’ in Holy Week seen as the day when Judas went to betray his Lord; Good Friday when Jesus, his Lord and Ours, died for all our sin. All our sin, as the Sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral makes clear.

We cannot all dedicate our Wednesdays to restful prayer, any more than Fr James can do during most of his working life, but let us try to find a desert moment to be restful and open to prayer, even if it’s sitting on the bus home, or a quiet cup of tea before going to get the children from school.

Happy Lent!

tea42

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9 December: Greater than all our troubles.

whitby ps 93.4

The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. 

Ps 93.4 KJV

This sign is fixed to the lighthouse at the mouth of Whitby harbour, below the clifftop where Saint Hilda had her monastery and sponsored bishops for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

It’s the sort of place where people, overwhelmed by their troubles, go to end their lives; hence the message:

God is greater than all of our troubles.

It doesn’t always feel that way, and with an outreached hand, a smile, a word in season, we might, all unawares, help  someone to carry on a little longer. Even a notice like this one may touch a troubled soul, though it must have taken great trust for Whitby fishermen’s wives to believe it, on nights when their men were lost on a stormy sea.

judas

Is the suicide lost? The stonemasons of Strasbourg did not think so, for they showed the Risen Lamb of God untying the hanged Judas to bring him back from the mouth of Hell.

If our journey is delayed by a suicide or a fatal accident, let us forgive those whose actions cause us inconvenience, let us not complain at the delay, but rather let us pray for the victim, for those innocently caught up in the incident, and the families and friends of all concerned.

This reflection comes after another railway trespasser’s death led to a callous response from a delayed passenger.

samaritans.ticket nov2017

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